Panic on the streets of Seattle

Maybe everybody involved with the Vancouver Whitecaps had started to believe their own publicity?

And maybe that’s understandable given their jump in the in the MLS power rankings and after listening to Wednesday’s pregame show on TSN in which the overall consensus from the pundits seemed to be that Carl Robinson had cleverly crafted the perfect footballing machine designed to function no matter which player started in which position.

Those of us who watch the team week in and week out know otherwise of course. We know that they’re a scrappy team who just got ten points out of the last twelve that could just as easily have been six or seven.

But that’s all water under the bridge now because any nascent delusions of grandeur will hopefully have been severely smashed by the 3-0 mauling handed out to the Whitecaps by the Seattle Sounders at Century Link Field.

Robinson once again rang the changes and this time around not a single one of them worked.

Sheanon Williams played like a man who never wanted to see a football again in his life and Christian Bolaños and Bernie Ibini offered nothing going forward from either of the flanks.

Russell Teibert arrived at every interception half a second too late and Tony Tchani seemed unaware that there was a competitive game going on around him.

Fredy Montero hit a good free kick I guess.

And after a manically entertaining first half in which both teams offered at least something the Whitecaps were completely outplayed (out coached?) in the second and the three goal margin was a fair reflection of the Sounders dominance.

The Whitecaps are still top of the Western Conference at least, but it’s not inconceivable that they will lose in Kansas and New York to suddenly find themselves in a battle for fourth place at best come season end.

No need to press the panic button yet (he said with his hand hovering desperately over the panic button) because the return of Ghazal should shore up a midfield that was woefully open in Seattle and none of the players can ever play that badly ever again.

Can they?

The most concerning thing is that the Whitecaps have effectively failed to turn up for the last three Cascadia derbies, putting in lack lustre performances in each.

And a side that can’t perform in the big games isn’t a side that will fare well in the playoffs and neither is it reassuring that the last two decent sides Vancouver have faced (Columbus and Seattle) both worked out ways to open them up through the centre of the park.

Right now Vancouver have just one way of playing and any post-season success could ultimately hinge on whether Carl Robinson has any kind of Plan B up his sleeve at all.

Don’t bet your house on that being the case (or on anything really, it would be madness to bet your house on anything!)

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-5.5, Williams-4, Parker-5, Waston-5.5, Harvey-5, Teibert-5, Tchani-4.5, Bolaños-5, Ibini-5, Reyna-5.5*, Montero-5

 

 

 

 

Whitecaps v Sounders: What did we learn?

The former England striker Gary Lineker was once asked if being a great goal scorer was about being in the right place at the right time.

“No” he replied “it’s about being in the right place all of the time”.

Fredy Montero didn’t do all that much in the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders on Friday evening but twice he managed to find the right sliver of space to head the ball home from close range.

It’s been too long since the Whitecaps had that kind of player.

The game itself began with a “same old, same old” feeling for the home side as they conceded possession to the visitors and resorted to the kind of aimless long balls from the back that left Montero bereft of both support and hope.

It just seemed to be a matter of time before the quality inherent in the Seattle forward line got the breakthrough.

Then Cristian Techera began to find the space out wide to deliver in a couple of decent crosses and the momentum of the game changed ever so slightly.

Suddenly the Whitecaps hearts and intentions were in the right place and although it was neither pretty nor particularly effective they did at least begin to take the game to their opponents.

The second half began with a sense of openness that was inevitably going to lead to a goal and indeed it did  (See! I told you!) when Bolaños spread the ball wide to Techera who delivered the perfect cross for Montero to head home.

The key to that goal wasn’t just the link play of Bolaños and Techera it was the fact that both Bolaños and Davies were in the box with Montero waiting for the ball to be delivered.

Marking Montero and two others is far harder than marking a solitary Montero and if Vancouver want to continue to get the best out of the Colombian then they need to to give him that kind of quality support on a regular basis.

The other major positives from the evening were the aforementioned link play of Bolaños and Techera (Who may well be on the way to forming an effective triumvirate with Montero) and the play of Parker and Waston who once again looked back to their old selves of two years ago.

There were negatives on display as well of course so let’s dwell on those for a short while.

Neither Laba nor Teibert offered any kind of effective attacking presence from the midfield and that’s just not sustainable over the long term.

And Carl Robinson may have to begin to consider Alphonso Davies as more of an impact substitute than a starting player because the poor kid looked both physically and mentally gassed at about the fifty minute mark.

The biggest concern though was the way the team completely lost their collective heads once Seattle did score and the final four minutes of added time were an exercise in hope over organisation in which hope only won by the merest of margins.

That sense of panic is probably to be expected given the way the team have played of late but it was a reminder of just how quickly this season could still fall spectacularly off the rails.

Still, the Whitecaps now have two consecutive home wins against Western Conference rivals under their belts which at least makes the upcoming four game road trip a less daunting prospect and if Robinson can convince his players (Or, more likely, the other way around) that taking the initiative in games isn’t necessarily the equivalent of signing your own death warrant then there is still a chance the season won’t be the disaster it’s already threatened to be.

Yes, I’m saying there’s a chance!

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Williams-6.5, Parker-7.5*, Waston-7.5, Harvey-6, Teibert-6, Laba-6, Techera-7, Davies-6, Bolaños-7, Montero-6.5 (Mezquida-6)

 

 

 

 

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Is this a Winter of Discontent for fans of the Whitecaps?

More like a winter holding their heads in their hands and hoping the world would go away I suspect but sooner or later we all have to dive into the freezing cold pool of reality whether we have lanolin covering our bodies or not.

So let’s at least dip our toes into the icy pool of these two subjects.

What does the MLS Cup Final mean?- Well apart from it meaning hell on earth for the Whitecaps that is.

Is two of the higher spending clubs making it to the final indicative of a sea change for MLS as a whole or is it a single event signifying nothing?

Nothing of any import can ever be gleaned from one isolated incident of course but this does at least feel different in a large part because of the influence of two players.

Neither Giovinco nor Lodeiro have the name power to get MLS apostates buying tickets or changing channels but they do have the ability to win games for their respective teams and the initial moves by expansion team Atlanta United indicate that they too are spending money on “difference makers” rather than marquee names.

If Toronto have learned anything from this season (and it’s Toronto so it’s entirely possible that they won’t) it’s that the best way to insert a team into the wider consciousness of the public is to win games on the field.

If enough other teams around the league learn the same lesson then the arms race of spending may switch into something far more ruthless than mere marketing ploys.

And their rivals suddenly start to acquire players with a proven record in proven leagues then hoping to unearth hidden gems from the coal dust of lesser competitions will prove to be more and more risky for the Whitecaps.

Hurtado stays while others leaves- Official farewells have now been given to Morales, Perez, Aird, Smith and Carducci and enough has been said about all of them with perhaps the exception of Marco Carducci.

A talented goalkeeper who never really looked ready for the step up to MLS and one who fell behind in the pecking order to the more accomplished looking Spencer Richey but Carducci could well find a role in the up and coming Canadian Premier League.

The signing of Hurtado won’t get any pulses racing but he is what he is; a useful MLS depth player.

His failings last season were as much about the failings of others as they were his own. Kudo struggled, Perez couldn’t (or wasn’t allowed to) play on a regular basis and Rivero was away before summer ever really set in.

It may be harsh to say that asking Hurtado to lead the line on a regular basis is setting him up to fail but it is certainly asking more of him than he is capable of and there comes a time when a coach’s willingness to believe in a player slips over into bad man management.

I think that’s where we were with Hurtado last season but hopefully 2017 sees him playing the role to which he is best suited; a late impact substitute and a starter in a few of those games against Eastern Conference teams where the main striker(s) need(s) a rest.

For now though let’s forget all that and just try to get through this Final safe in the knowledge that the 2017 schedule, the signings and some actual games of football aren’t all that too far behind.

 

A fitting end to a fitful season for the Whitecaps

It was fitting that the Vancouver Whitecaps shambolic season ended in a game which featured two red cards, two penalty kicks, some dubious refereeing decisions and a finale which found the home team adopting chaos theory as a form of tactical approach.

Carl Robinson may be fond of arguing that “formations don’t matter” but this was taking things to the nth degree.

The game ended with a 2-1 defeat to the Seattle Sounders meaning that Vancouver are finally and officially eliminated from the playoff picture and that their current home record is an astonishingly bad five wins, five losses and six ties.

Five home wins in an MLS season is one way to guarantee a terrible year and the Whitecaps have nothing left to play for in their remaining two games other than the pride that too few of them have shown throughout the season thus far.

The game actually began quite well for Vancouver as a nice piece of play from Alphonso Davies resulted in a penalty kick which Pedro Morales slotted home with ease.

So this would be the perfect opportunity to go ahead and try to finish off a Sounders team who were missing both Dempsey and Lodeiro right?

On the contrary.

The Whitecaps immediately lost all interest in attacking and sat back to allow the visitors to find a foothold in the game, which they did through an Ossie Alonso goal in the thirty-ninth minute.

For the rest of the half the Whitecaps suddenly woke up again but when Jordan Harvey spurned a great chance to restore the lead just before the break the omens weren’t good.

It’s hard to know if their reluctance to press on after taking the lead is down to the players on the field or the instructions off it but, whatever the reason, it’s a flaw that desperately needs to be remedied next season.

The Whitecaps began the second half in their characteristically lethargic style and the game only really came back to life once Pedro Morales was red carded for an “elbow” in the fifty-third minute.

I say “elbow” because it was the kind of challenge that would have been a yellow card (at most) in a CONCACAF game, but the Captain has been around the league long enough to know how MLS refs operate so he probably has less cause to complain than it initially seemed.

Even down to ten men the Whitecaps weren’t that troubled by a prosaic Seattle side but a hard hit cross hit Jordan Harvey on the hand and the subsequent penalty-kick was dispatched to drive the final nail into the Whitecaps playoff coffin.

To be fair to Robinson he did throw all hands on deck at this stage (too little too late?) as he moved to three at the back but by now the game more resembled a pick up game in a local park than it did any kind of professional display.

It’s tempting to say that this was the latest in a long line of disappointing performances from this Vancouver team but the time for disappointments has passed.

We can no longer be disappointed because this is exactly who they are; a group of players who collectively just aren’t good enough for Major League Soccer.

Big changes are needed in the next few months.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Ousted-6, Smith-6, Edgar-6-, Parker-5, Harvey-5, Laba-6, Morales-5, Bolaños-6, Davies-6*, Hurtado 5, Barnes-4

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps as good as done

Carl Robinson has clearly decided that the fate of the 2016 season will hinge on the form of Pedro Morales.

The captain has done nothing in recent weeks (or months) to justify a starting position but a starting position was once again handed to him for the crucial Cascadia derby against the Seattle Sounders.

Did the Whitecaps lose 1-0 specifically because Morales was in the starting eleven? No. But his presence lessened the possibility of such a win.

For whatever reason Morales has become incapable of providing any kind of attacking threat or even creativity and so he (once again) became an attacking and defensive void during the game at Century Link Field.

Andrew Jacobson isn’t the greatest player in the world but he does at least provide a little bit of everything when he’s on the field and, given that the Whitecaps looked most threatening on the counter attack, an additional player who could break up Seattle’s forward moves could have been invaluable.

Yet for all that Vancouver did create chances and, on anther day, may have come away with at least a point but a forward line led by Erik Hurtado is probably always going to need more than one or two gilt edged opportunities to seal the deal.

And the crux of the problem is right there.

A journeyman midfielder feels like a better option than the highest paid DP and a journeyman forward is keeping far higher paid attackers on the bench (Kudo and Barnes in particular).

The Whitecaps just aren’t getting value for their money in a league where every dollar spent needs to be spent wisely.

Whether that’s down to the individual players, coaching decisions or just poor recruitment is a debate for another day.

Yet it’s not inconceivable that the Whitecaps could win their four remaining games (they may even play better once the pressure is perceived to be off) but realistically those games are about reclaiming the Cascadia Cup and restoring a little bit of pride in the overall standings.

Some players are probably playing for their place at the club next season too but if they only decide to start playing for that place at the dog end of a season gone by then they won’t be worth keeping anyway.

So don’t put a fork in this team or this season just yet but you can definitely open the cutlery drawer and start selecting your implement of choice.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Osuted-6, Smith-5, Waston-6*, Edgar-6, Harvey-6, Laba-6, Morales-4, Techera-5, Bolaños-5, Mezquida-6, Hurtado-6 (Barnes-6)